Every now and then, we have the chance to truly express our gratitude to the men and women who sacrifice to serve and protect our freedom. DAL Captain John Gries was presented with his opportunity when he met 1st Lt. Alva John “AJ” Spain sitting in a wheelchair in one of our jetways. Upon learning he had served in World War II, Captain Gries promptly invited Mr. Spain to step in to the flight deck for the first time since he had come back from the war. Though Mr. Spain had previously been upset with his daughter and son-in-law about having to take to the skies for the first time in decades, his attitude quickly changed as he bonded with a fellow aviator.
The few moments Captain Gries and Mr. Spain spent together in the flight deck on July 12, 2004 made an immeasurable, lasting impact. To the extent that Spain’s son-in-law, Sandy Peters, has glanced in the flight deck of every Southwest flight he’s taken in the last twelve years in hopes of seeing Captain Gries and thanking him for his gesture over a decade ago.
Mr. Spain’s health started to deteriorate after that July 2004 trip, and he passed away in 2009. Mr. Peters recently sent Southwest a letter after witnessing one of our Flight Attendants providing another Customer with the same Hospitality and care that was shown to his father-in-law. It reminded him of that day back in 2004 and he wanted to thank the Pilot again “for making a difference in the life of one of our country’s true heroes.”
After researching the photo and flight, we found the long-sought-after Captain’s name and were able to reunite him with Mr. Spain’s family. The video of their reunion shows the power a few minutes of genuine care and Hospitality can make on our Customers’ lives.
As we approach Memorial Day and continue to have the opportunity to pay our respects, it’s important to me that I share the last sentences of Mr. Peters’ letter. He said, “I know that you don’t teach Employees to treat people this way. You hire people that understand it and you encourage them to do what comes naturally to them. I have told this story many times over the years, and I always end with, ‘and that’s one of the many reasons I fly Southwest.’”
I am proud to work with People who honor, respect, and remember the men and women of our military. Thank you to all those who have served and sacrificed to protect our country, as well as those who continue to make us the land of the free and the home of the brave.